Japan proposes language tests for foreigners

Citing further anti-terrorism intiatives, Japan is set to consider requiring long-term foreign residents and workers to have local language ability. Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura made the statement Tuesday, with a senior Foreign Ministry official confirming to Radio Australia that the department should pursue the terms of the new requirement quickly. The comments have not been taken well in many quarters of Japan’s expatriot community.

Speaker – Dave Aldwinckle, author, columnist and human rights campaigner; Dr Chris Burgess, Tsuda College in Tokyo; Professor Mushakoji Kinhide, Secretary General of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism

[The following news write, drafted from the above feature, courtesy Radio Australia News]

Plans to introduce language tests for foreigners wishing to live and work in Japan has prompted concerns from the expatriate community.

Japan’s foreign minister, Masahiko Komura, made the announcement on Tuesday, and the foreign ministry told Radio Australia the department should pursue the terms of the new requirement quickly.

The plans, announced just months after the country began photographing and finger-printing all foreign nationals on entry to Japan, have not been taken well in many quarters of Japan’s expatriate community.

Dave Aldwinckle has been a permanent resident in Japan since 1996, and is married to a Japanese with two children.

The author, columnist and human rights campaigner, who goes by the Japanese name, Arudou Debito, told Radio Australia over a million people will be affected by the move.

“And millions more if you include their families as well that are Japanese,” he said.

“To pass them all off as potential terrorists is worse than callous, in my view, it’s unappreciation for the work that people have done over here already,” Mr Aldwinckle said.

‘Another arbitrary hurdle’

He says while he believes anyone wanting to live in Japan should be able to read, write and speak Japanese, it will be difficult to test and enforce.

“It’s another potentially arbitrary hurdle to put up in front of foreigners that, given the past government enforcement of policy, I’m a little bit concerned about how this is going to be enforced as well,” he said.

Dr Chris Burgess, of Tsuda College in Tokyo, says the proposed language test for foreigners is going to harm Japan in a multitude of ways.

“The new regulations, supposedly aimed at eradicating illegal residents, is just going to push them underground more than anything,” Dr Burgess told Radio Australia.

“I think, in some ways this is a poorly thought out policy and just a knee-jerk reaction to public attitudes which demand more to be done to tackle the foreign crime – a myth that you see in newspapers all the time, that foreigners are criminals; unfounded statistically, but that’s the myth.”

The Secretary General of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Professor Mushakoji Kinhide, has another theory about the language test.

“It is, more or less, a general position of the Liberal Democratic Party leadership about the so-called overseas, Japanese-origin, Latin American migrants,” Professor Kinhide said.

The ‘Nikkei-jin’ factor

The deputy director of the Foreign Nationals Affairs Division in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Terasawa Genichi, told Radio Australia that ‘Nikkei-jin’ – returning Japanese emigrants and their descendants living outside of Japan – are indeed a focus in the proposed language test.

Declining an interview, Mr Terasawa did, however, stipulate that the test was not targetting any particular ethnic group.

Professor Mushakoji says the group has caused problems before.

“Unfortunately the Japanese-descent, young people who come do not necessarily speak Japanese and have very genuine cultural habits which are quite different from the Japanese and so there has been a few cases of cultural problems – Brazilian-Japanese will tend to sing and dance and be quite different in their behaviour at night,” he said.

In 2006, the then-foreign minister, Taro Aso, described Japan as “one nation, one civilisation, one language, one culture, and one race”.

Professor Mushakoji is therefore concerned about the comments of the new Foreign Minister, Masahiko Komura.

“If Komura has repeated the statement already made by Aso it is a manifestation of the Japanese government not to admit that Japan will gradually have to turn into a multicultural country and insist on keeping Japan as a homogenous society,” Professor Mushakoji said.

Naturalised Japanese citizen, Dave Aldwinckle feels, like many others, unduly targeted.

“Well, foreigners aren’t like Japanese, there’s no commonality, the Japanese are unique, etc,” he said.

“If you keep playing that button the Government can keep getting budgets for anti-terrorism moves which will eventually target disenfranchised foreigners – hey, foreigners can’t vote.”

2 thoughts on “Japan proposes language tests for foreigners”

  1. This is the longer-form version of the feature. Due to time restraints and requirements of current affairs programs I submitted an optional 4 mins 39 secs version. This version above contains longer interview segments and a couple more issues.

Comments are closed.